Open spine books, or showing what’s hidden

Open spine books, or showing what’s hidden

For some people, bare spine binding verges on exhibitionism. For others, it is a pleasant change and a breath of fresh air. Bookbinding that exposes the block spine is controversial, as it uncovers what the binder tries to skilfully keep out of our sight.

Open spine binding

The design of a book with such cover resembles spiral bound books but… without the spiral wire. It also comprises two base case boards: front and back and it also has no spine board. What is covered in conventional bookbinding is exposed here. You can see the structure of the spine with threads joining folded sheets, the glue and whatever is printed on the folds. The covers can be hard or soft.

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What is achieved by exposing the spine? A unique, raw look and somewhat technical form of the book. However, in order to make it appealing you need to take care of details. Usually, book blocks are joined using white thread so that they remain inconspicuous on white paper. But if you want to make your book spine stand out it’s good to choose a colour that goes well with the cover. This will give the book an extra distinctive feature.

Pros and cons

Functionality is a bit compromised by the impressive nature of such a solution. We can’t put the essential information (title and author’s name) on the spine if there is none. So, the book remains a mystery until we look at the cover.

On the other hand, let’s be honest – how many open spine books do you have in your library? We guess that even the most seasoned book-lovers have just a few, so they will know precisely which books those are without even glancing at the front or back cover. The size of the book and the colour of the threads will do. As bare spine books are so unique, there is a chance that out of all the books sitting on the bookshelf a potential reader will reach for one of these – out of curiosity, intrigued to see what it is and what the cover looks like. And getting a potential customer to hold a book in their hands is a half way to success. There are hundreds of interesting and nicely packaged books on bookstore shelves and it is really difficult to stand out in such a crowd. An open spine book will surely draw attention.

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Swiss binding

While we are at binding styles where the spine is exposed, we have to mention the so-called Swiss binding.

We said above that the open spine binding is similar to spiral binding; in this case the method resembles concealed wire binding. A hidden wire spiral joins the book block with the back cover in such a way that we can only see it when we open the book (or looking at the perforation on the back board). In the Swiss binding method the block is also connected to the back board only but with glue, not a wire. So, the concept joins the advantages of two binding styles: we can see the bare spine when the book is opened and there is a spine board to place all the necessary information. Occasionally, publishers use a lining strip to cover the spine though. Like in the case of open spine books, it is advisable to look into the details and choose the best thread colours.


One of the most important advantages of Swiss binding is the ease of opening. Since the book block is fastened to the back board only, the book can be open flat. You can use this type of binding in products that require a better openability: calendars, diaries, planners and notebooks.

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Open or closed spine?

This is a question of taste and aesthetics. Open spine binding is definitely an exceptional solution, but since books are printed with a prospective reader in mind, rather than for yourselves, so if you wish to appeal to the latest trends, a taste for innovation or artistic flair, why not go with the open spine? However, if the reader is expected to have a preference for more traditional values, perhaps it’s better not to put a square peg in a round hole.

lidia piasecka

Lidia Piasecka

Graphic designer at She writes because she enjoys it, but only when she isn’t busy drawing. Enthusiast of vintage furniture, she restores them to their original glory. Lover of cats, moths and the Moomins.

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